Team victory over homelessness

Tent city was setup by homeless people just off Meeting Street at the onramp to I-26. (Brad Nettles/Staff) 10/1/15

More than 100 people living for months without running water, relying on the kindness of strangers for food and warm clothing. It was a recipe for tragedy.

And indeed one person lay dead for three days before he was found in Charleston’s Tent City under the overpass of I-26 off Meeting Street.

But the overriding message for the Lowcountry as the remnants of Tent City moved out last week was one of hope that the area can work together and begin to chisel away at the persistent problem of homelessness.

As Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said on April 8 after the last person boarded a bus to leave, “What we are here to celebrate is not the closing of Tent City, but the opening of a new era of collaboration in our community.”

That collaboration started with individuals and groups who answered the homeless people’s plight by taking them food, blankets, tents and clothing.

The mayor, recognizing that the situation was dangerous for both the homeless people and the people who live and work in the area, pledged the city’s help.

His goal was to find permanent, suitable housing for the people who were living in that wide-open, public space.

He established the Homeless to Hope fund where people could donate money to help.

He looked to OneEighty Place homeless shelter for assistance. A former board member, he knew they were the experts in this field, and they could provide vital services and guidance.

And the Lowcountry Homeless Coalition helped put it in painful perspective. Tent City was only one of the area’s homeless encampments.

Charleston County and the City of North Charleston joined the efforts, making the county-owned building on Leeds Avenue available to homeless people for up to 60 days as they get help finding long-term living solutions.

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey has said he would like to open a shelter for homeless women and children.

Charleston County Council Chairman Elliott Summey and state Rep. Wendell Gilliard formed the Lowcountry Task Force to Combat Homelessness, and Mayor Tecklenburg has said he will establish a committee to deal with long-term issues of homelessness.

Those issues are sure to include a lack of affordable housing and emergency housing, jobs that provide living wages and help for mental health illness and addiction.

Rob Dewey of the Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy has compiled an online resource list for members of churches and other communities of faith trying to help people who are homeless.

The successful and humane efforts by many to help Tent City residents find real homes is, sadly, only a start. As The Post and Courier reported Sunday, many people continue to live outside in places not so visible as Tent City.

The move toward eliminating homelessness will take commitment of time, talent and resources. Organizations, municipalities and individuals who saw Tent City and were moved to help there might consider how much they are willing to devote to the broader process.

That combination of caring, kindness, information and resources worked at Tent City.

Why wouldn’t it work across the Lowcountry?